Day 2 started hot. Apparently, Kathmandu is on rolling blackout, or also known as load shedding. The fan was switched off as a result (so were the phones we were charging).
Low investment in power generation, high levels of corruption, and political turmoil have resulted in one of the most severe power shortages in the world. Furthermore, much of the large hydro power projects are export orientated and financed by India. Such projects provide only a limited percentage of generated power to the national grid while the remainder is exported to India and the neighbouring countries of India.
Due to that, I woke up earlier than I set my alarm.
Breakfast in the hotel is western style. Eggs, sausages, toast, tea or coffee. I decided not to take tea or coffee due to the caffeine that is in the drink. Morning conversation was dry with Joel talking about electricity as currency.
Thereafter, we went to the money changer to change our greenbacks to Nepali rupees. Our Yusof Ishaks are listed on the exchange board as well. However, upon calculating the rates, it is more worth it to use USD dollars instead. Also, don’t bother shopping around for better rates. The exchanges are priced the same, despite displaying no commission earned.
Some of us went to the nearby NCell dealer to get our local numbers. Surprisingly, there is data packages for prepaid cards. The cards provided are in standard SIM sizes. The dealer cut the cards down to size for iPhones and my HTC Butterfly S (which uses micro SIM as well). However, the chip placement isn’t really accurate. It resulted in Ryan’s phone being rendered useless while my phone could not detect the SIM card till after umpteen times of taking the SIM card in and out repeatedly.
I bought 400Rs top-up card as well to get the 500MB package on top of the 100MB provided. At the end of the trip, I topped up another 100MB, using up the rest of the value in the card.
However, up in Annapurna mountain range, the dominant cell provider is NTC. For most of the trek, there was no communications with the world outside.
We walked a short distance to the tour bus that would take us through 3 tourist attractions in the valley. Nepal, the birthplace of Buddhism, shares Hinduism and Buddhism as major religions practiced in the country.
The first attraction is Swayambhunath. Reaching the location, there was a familiar chant playing, Om Mani Padmi Hum. Being brought up in a predominantly Buddhism/Taoism household, I was introduced to this mantra when I was younger. The guide said it is for compassion. (My Dad said it was for wisdom. Well, at that time, I was studying. Right.) However, it encompasses essence of the entire teaching of Buddhism: generosity, ethics, patience, diligence, renunciation and wisdom. Walking about Swayambhunath, there were other sutras being played in the background. Some were familiar, others were not. I could not identify them anymore, since the last time I chanted them was in kindergarten (K1).
The second attraction was Patan Durbar Square.
We had lunch there as well.
Durbar Square is the general name given to the open plazas outside palaces of Napali kingdoms long gone. The Square consists of many religious constructions, Buddhism and Hinduism alike.
There was one construct which restricts access to Hindus only as well.
Besides the palace, there was a water distribution point at the square. The point is ancient, with only 2 of the 3 outlets working, bringing water from the mountains down to the people.
We got to try out the mediation bowls in a shop!
When a stick runs at the rim of the bowl, resonance is produced and is evident when still water introduced vibrated in patterns.
The bowl is placed above our heads, inverted. The sound produced is said to relief or cure head related pains, headaches, migraines and helps to relax the mind. It looks cool, but cool stuff comes with a steep price as well. It ended up that we didn’t purchase anything from the shop as we weren’t prepared to part with most of our cash this early in the trip.
The last attraction was the Boudha Stupa. The stupa is simply huge. More Om mani padme hum. Walking around the stupa, we could hear people chanting another sutra. Likewise, familiar words, but at the same time, unfamiliar.
There are many monasteries surrounding the stupa too. Given the lack of time, I could not visit the temples.
While waiting for the rest to gather though, we had ice cream from a nearby shop. Although we were not sure if Leon was going for the seconds just for the seconds, or for the counter girl. Heh.
Anyway! We went back to the hotel. And we had an impromptu birthday celebration! Honestly, I had no idea that it was Ryan’s birthday.
Given sufficient time left, most went shopping at the store around the hotel. And my, my! It is a heaven of cheap branded trek related stuff (rejected, defective or pirated/fake goods). Like China many many years ago, we could bargain at the shops here. The shopkeeper would set a ridiculously high initial price. Like true negotiators, we bargained for the lowest possible. Day bags that were going for 4000Rs (approximately 52 SGD) were sold at final prices of between 1600Rs (21 SGD) to 2000Rs (26 SGD). The only items I bought were a shirt and two pairs of socks, to supplement my limited number of shirts and socks (I packed only 3 shirts and 2 pairs of socks for the trek and the trip). Like I said in the previous post, I was minimally prepared and I followed the packing list as closely as possible. The only item that I packed in excess was underwears. That included not reading the trip itinerary word to word.
Dinner was at a halal restaurant. It was sumptuous and unique.
Kebab wasn’t in the sliced form that Singaporeans are accustomed to. Instead, it was rolled meat. As for rice, their one portion is equivalent to twice of that we have in Singapore! More yummy photos below!
With the late dinner done, we went back to the hotel. While the rest went on HTHT-ing (having heart-to-heart talk), I slept in early straight after the briefing for the following day.
The first of many early nights.
View my Facebook album of the second day here:
“Breaking in Kathmandu”
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